Friday, 10 January 2020

Valzhyna Mort: 'Ars Poetica'




In 2019, one of my best poetry moments was definitely the Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort's reading as part of the 'Poems from the Edge of Extinction' event during the Poetry International festival at London's Southbank. This event was to accompany the release of an anthology of the same title.

Notably, Valzhyna Mort read a poem called 'Ars Poetica', which you can find here:


ARS POETICA (Valzhyna Mort)


Mort's taut, emphatic reading brought out the poem's steel edges, but I was also deeply struck by 'Ars Poetica' when reading it on the page. I've seen the ars poetica (essentially, an explanation of the art of writing poetry) called a cliché - it does get used a lot, but I've also read some particularly good ones, such as the Czeslaw Milosz poem 'Ars Poetica?', to which he cunningly attached a question mark.

Anyway, it would be nice to think that by the time a discerning poet gets around to writing theirs, it's going to be worthwhile. Mort grew up in Belarus but has lived in the United States for many years, and has written poetry in both Belarusian and English. (Her first language is actually Russian: some of the complexity of this, and how it affects her writing, is detailed in this interesting interview in the California Journal of Poeticshttp://www.californiapoetics.org/interviews/2359/an-interview-with-valzhyna-mort/)

'Ars Poetica' offers a glimpse into the conflicted genesis of Mort's art, which is also discussed in the same California Journal of Poetics interview: a childhood with a constant awareness of Belarus's war-torn past, and ringed round with both comfort (the grandmother's chocolates, though from a purse with a frightening face) and violence ("streets introduced themselves with the names/of national murderers"), some of which may be state-sanctioned, or its perception at least state-controlled. Memory, "the illegal migrant in time", is perhaps kinder than imagination.


Photo: World Literature Today - Valzhyna Mort reading at the 2015 Neustadt Festival opening night. Used under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)

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